All About Peas and Lentils

Minted pea & goats cheese soupHERO

The secret's out, everyone loves peas and they are often the only green food children will eat. Keeping peas in your freezer, and closely related lentils in your store cupboard, is an excellent way to kick off masses of healthy, nutritious dishes whether you are vegetarian or not.

Peas have been a favourite since the dawn of civilization. They were one of the first crops ever to be cultivated, in the Nile Delta and all over the Middle East thousands of years ago. Their superior nutritional qualities no doubt fuelled the building of the pyramids.

Peas were known for most of their history in their dried form - more like our modern lentils. Inexpensive, tasty and nutritious, lentils are high in protein and fibre. Contrary to popular belief they don't need soaking, they can be quick to prepare.

There are several varieties available at Tesco. Orange lentils - which break down to form a puree when cooked, are excellent in dishes such as hearty chicken and spinach curry, lentil soup or traditional Indian dhal. Green lentils are brilliant combined with other vegetables such as mushrooms for an autumnal bake or in a main course salad such as smoked mackerel, orange and lentil salad. You can also buy Puy lentils - known as the caviar of lentils, these are delicious cooked until soft but still holding their shape, and then dressed with fresh herbs, balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

Fresh peas became very fashionable in France in the 17th century, when farmers competed with each other to grow the smallest and sweetest petit pois. Available frozen, these delicious little peas can be eaten cooked with fresh mint, and dressed with a little butter. But you shouldn't stop there. Peas add a pop of colour and flavour to a wide range of dishes such as tortilla (a thick Spanish omelette) with goats' cheese and mint, kedgeree, soup and risotto. Sugar snap peas, developed in China centuries ago, are particularly good in salads and stir fries.

Peas in all their forms are an excellent standby for the busy cook.

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